Injuries have been a theme for the San Diego Chargers over the past few seasons. The amount of players getting hurt is almost as high as Jax Teller’s kill count in “Sons of Anarchy” (we still miss you, Jackie Boy).
Allen, 24, is the Chargers’ No. 1 receiver. He was runner-up for Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2013. After a mediocre sophomore season, he quieted doubters after putting up incredible numbers halfway into last year. He averaged 90.6 yards per game before being placed on season-ending injured reserve.
So what’s the problem? Well, the Chargers need their guy to stay on the field. Allen’s been hurt in all but one season. The whole team has been injured as of late, so it isn’t technically fair to point the finger at one man.
But Allen’s potential is still untapped. He could have doubled his numbers had he not lacerated his kidney on a spectacular touchdown catch in Week 8 against the Baltimore Ravens. He’s had 316 targets over three years, the most on the team during that span.
Nov 1, 2015; Baltimore, MD, USA; San Diego Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen (13) catches the ball for a touchdown between Baltimore Ravens free safety Kendrick Lewis (23) and cornerback Jimmy Smith (22) during the second quarter at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
And it’s not just about the numbers. Allen’s the most impactful wide receiver on the team. He’s a clutch player who’s been producing on a team with no offensive line or running game.
Quarterback Philip Rivers is known to make any receiver look good, but it makes a bigger difference when that one receiver is a legitimate threat on his own. We’ve seen it before when Rivers had Vincent Jackson, who’s been racking up 1,000-yard seasons on a regular basis (with the exception of last year) with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. When Jackson was a Charger, the team went to the playoffs four straight years (2006-09). They were a talented bunch, but Jackson was a big part in their success.
You should feel for Allen. It’s not his fault he’s been banged up. Realistically, he’s very, very good; but he’s not great. The main obstacle holding him back from being one of the top receivers in the league is injury. So the question is, is Allen injury prone, or are these hard-luck injuries?
Allen, who was considered one of the top receivers in the 2013 NFL draft, fell to the third round because of an injured left knee, a torn posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) to be exact. That aforementioned injury caused him to miss time in his final year (2012) at Cal.
Allen hurt his knee in training camp his rookie year, but it wasn’t serious by any means. He only missed the first game of the season, and he was thrust into the starting role right away (14 starts) because of injuries to Danario Alexander and Malcom Floyd. The Chargers made the playoffs, and Allen went on to become one of 16 wide receivers to break 1,000 yards as a rookie dating back to 1970.
In 2014, Allen left a Week 15 matchup against the Denver Broncos with a sprained ankle and fractured collarbone. Granted he only missed the final two games of the season, but the Chargers just missed out on the playoffs that year due to a heart-breaking loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 17.
And we’ve already mentioned the injury that took him out in 2015. Ironically, it was predicted that Allen would miss time last year.
From a production standpoint, getting Allen in the third round remains a steal. Players like Tavon Austin, Cordarrelle Patterson, Justin Hunter, Robert Woods, Aaron Dobson and Terrance Williams went ahead of him in the draft. None of them are close to being No. 1 receivers. Most of them aren’t even serviceable No. 2 receivers. Of all the players mentioned above, only Williams and Patterson have played three straight 16-game seasons. Given the evidence from last year, WIlliams is not capable of carrying the load as the team’s main option. Patterson’s two catches last year sum up his story. Aside from Texans’ DeAndre Hopkins, who’s also played (and started) in every game thus far, Allen has made the most impact of the group.
The main reason why I’m picking him apart from the rest of the injured Charger club is because he’s going into the final year of his four-year rookie deal. General manager Tom Telesco took a gamble on Allen, and it paid off to an extent. The Chargers need to lock him up sooner rather than later, but how much should they pay to keep him?
Let’s take a look at three high-end receivers who all got paid in 2015:
Bengals WR A.J. Green: Green signed a four-year, $60 million deal with $32.7 million guaranteed. The former No. 4 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft has only missed four games while posting 1,000-yard seasons each year.
Falcons WR Julio Jones: Jones signed a five-year, $71.25 million deal with $47 million guaranteed. The Falcons traded a lot to move up to No. 6 overall to snag Jones in the 2011 draft. Even though he’s been the focal point for the Falcons and one of the most dynamic receivers in the game, he’s only played two full 16-game seasons.
Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas: Thomas signed a five-year, $70 million deal with $43.5 guaranteed. Another first-round pick (2010), Thomas started his career off slow, playing in only 21 games and recording less than 1,000 yards in his first two seasons combined. But he’s started and played in every game the last four years while becoming Peyton Manning’s favorite target.
All three receivers are paid as top-five guys, and they deserve to be paid as such. Allen will likely command big money, but does he belong in the top five? He has the potential, but health is a concern. We’ve seen a player like Thomas come onto the scene late and play in every game and post big numbers, leading to a big raise. We’ve also seen a player like Jones, who’s been banged up including missing a good portion of the 2013 season due to a broken foot, still get top dollar. Jones ended up leading the league in receiving yards (1,871) last season after finishing just above Steelers’ Antonio Brown, both of whom had good offensive lines and a solid running game.
There are different opinions on the issue, but Allen doesn’t deserve the injury-prone label. But if he isn’t able to stay on the field this year, the Chargers might not want to dish out a ton of dough to keep him in San Diego.
That being said, Allen is a playmaker, and we should expect a huge season from him, especially if free-agent acquisition Travis Benjamin can take some heat off Allen. The addition of Stevie Johnson last year, who also got hurt, had somewhat to do with Allen’s “bounce-back” year, so the more weapons (I’m also calling out your name, Hunter Henry) the better.
Overall, the Chargers need him in order to succeed. Let’s hope he can stay healthy for the long haul and be the top-five receiver some believe he can be.